Louisiana Sportsmen Target Gallinules

Louisiana sportsmen can target abundant game birds with long seasons, liberal limits and little competition.

“Common and purple gallinules are abundant in wetlands throughout the state,” advised Jason Olszak, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist. “Gallinules are legal to hunt in Louisiana, but not that many people hunt them.”

A drake purple gallinule tiptoes easily across lily pads in a wetland. (Photos by John N. Felsher)
A drake purple gallinule tiptoes easily across lily pads in a wetland. (Photos by John N. Felsher)

Both common and purple species thrive in freshwater marshes, lake shorelines, river backwaters, rice field potholes, and other wetlands. They like abundant, thick vegetation growing in or near the water edge. Some occasionally venture into brackish marshes, but most birds prefer sweeter water.

Since gallinules do not respond to decoys or calls, sportsmen must go to them. Some sportsmen walk the marshes flushing birds, but soft mud makes slogging through many Louisiana wetlands nearly impossible. Therefore, most people hunt gallinules from small boats. Federal law prohibits people from shooting at migratory birds, including gallinules, from boats under motor or sail power, but people can paddle, drift or pole through the marshes and hunt them that way, unless specifically prohibited by local laws.

Look for gallinules in sloughs and small channels with abundant matted aquatic vegetation and tall reeds that provide significant cover. They frequently walk along reedy shorelines. With their long lobed rather than webbed toes, gallinules nimbly step over floating lily pads, water hyacinths or other matted vegetation. Sometimes, they gather in huge flocks on floating aquatic vegetation.

At low tide, scan exposed mudbanks and grassy edges for movement. At high tide, scrutinize any tall canes. Birds frequently freeze to avoid enemies, even if the boat passes within a few feet of them. Gallinules can fly and swim, but prefer to dash into thick weeds to escape their enemies. After birds dart into thick cover, paddle about 30 yards away and wait quietly. Sometimes, they come back to the shorelines a few minutes later. If they don’t reappear, remember that spot and return to it later.

Steven Felsher shows off a common gallinule he shot in a marsh pond in southern Louisiana.
Steven Felsher shows off a common gallinule he shot in a marsh pond in southern Louisiana.

Many gallinule hunters work as teams. Position the shooter in the bow ready for action with the rear person serving as primary paddler and spotter. Double-teaming gallinules in a canoe makes a great way to introduce hunting to young sportsmen. On a good day, gallinule jumpers might see many birds and fire multiple times. In addition, boaters can carry food and refreshments to take occasional breaks.

Louisiana contains more than 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the United States and 25 percent of the total wetlands in the country. Several rivers flow through the Sportsman’s Paradise, forming deltas that create ideal gallinule habitat. Many state wildlife management areas conserve outstanding habitat for these birds.

“Common gallinules are more numerous through the interior of the state in emergent marshes along the rivers,” Olszak advised. “Purple gallinules are more common in coastal parishes, but people can still find them in inland wetlands. Some managed wetlands along the Red and Mississippi rivers hold a lot of birds. They also occur around reedy lake shorelines and shallows with abundant lotus and lily pads. Gallinules are very common in some coastal Wildlife Management Areas, particularly Pearl River, Pass-A-Loutre and Pointe-Aux-Chenes.”

Daniel Felsher admires a common gallinule he shot while hunting from a canoe.
Daniel Felsher admires a common gallinule he shot while hunting from a canoe.

About six miles east of Slidell, La., Pearl River WMA covers 35,728 acres between the West and East Pearl rivers. The rivers further subdivide into several other streams with numerous tributaries. Below U.S. 90, the management area contains about 10,000 acres of fresh to brackish marshes, which can provide excellent gallinule habitat.

About 10 miles south of Venice, La., Pass-A-Loutre WMA spreads through 115,596 acres of delta marshes and bayous. Reachable only by boat, these fertile marshes don’t offer much solid ground, but can hold an enormous amount of birdlife.

Approximately 15 miles southeast of Houma, La., Pointe-Aux-Chenes WMA offers sportsmen 33,480 acres of intermediate to brackish marshes pockmarked by numerous ponds, bayous and canals. Low rises along canal banks often grow up in thick vegetation, providing good gallinule habitat.

Another WMA is Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. It covers about 19,000 acres of fresh to brackish marshes, mixed hardwoods and pine savannahs along the northern shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain. The largest section exists west of Slidell near Lacombe. Another tract sits in the Fritchie Marsh east of Slidell. During teal and duck seasons, the refuge allows gallinule hunting on selected days. For information about hunting the refuge, see www.fws.gov/bigbranchmarsh.

The Louisiana gallinule season generally runs concurrent with the September teal season and November to January duck season. Louisiana sportsmen may bag up to 15 gallinules. For Louisiana license and hunting season information and details about specific wildlife management areas, see www.wlf.louisiana.gov.

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